Chasing 300 FPS, for the Little Guy
Speed doesn’t have to be a big guy’s game.
by Darren Choate, Editor In Chief
Chasing 300 fps? I remember when I first started bowhunting; it was right around the time I became a teenager. During my teens, I spent countless hours with my dad in our “archery shop,” building arrows, tuning bows, and then testing their performance right outside in our backyard. At the time—let’s call it the Round Cam Epoch—the chase was for 200 fps.
About the time I reached my father’s then age, technology changed drastically, making it possible for bow companies to achieve 300 fps with a hunting bow. Not too long after that came the advent of the ‘speed bow,’ and soon, almost every bow on the market was capable of hurling an arrow at 300 fps. Now, there are a few bows rated at 350+ fps based on the International Bowhunting Organization’s (IBO) standard.
The IBO standard began as a means to regulate archery competitions, but the majority of bow companies have adopted its guidelines to standardize the measure of arrow speed for the purposes of setting bow specifications.
The IBO standard for measuring arrow speed is:
- 70-pound draw weight
- 30-inch draw length
- 5-grains per inch of arrow (at a 30-inch draw length, that’s 350 grains)
Having a set standard is great, but it becomes a complex equation to figure out what speed an individual will be able to shoot, based on their specific attributes. No matter how you look at it, the standard does not match the average bowhunter, and it definitely overlooks the small-framed bowhunter.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the average US male, 20 years and over, is just under 5’ 10” tall and weighs 195-pounds. I am two inches shorter than the CDC norm, and 50 pounds lighter, coming in at 140 pounds dripping wet. I am a small-framed bowhunter. If you are too, then keep reading.
Chasing 300 FPS
The bow market is constantly changing, and lately bow manufacturers have designed bows specifically for women and bowhunters with shorter draw-lengths. With that in mind, it is inevitable—in my mind anyway—that speed will become a more prominent factor in bow purchases within these groups in the near future. If nothing else, it will at least be easier for individuals to know what the possibilities are.
Technically speaking, here are three arguments for chasing speed.
- Increased Energy Efficiency: If you can push an IBO-weighted arrow at 300 fps, then you will be able to shoot a heavier arrow at a faster speed as well, albeit under the magical 300 fps mark. Why does that matter? Kinetic energy, and more specifically, momentum, of a propelled arrow provide the inertia downrange to make an ethical harvest. Bowhunters should strive to shoot an arrow that optimizes arrow speed and weight to maximize energy.
- Flat Trajectory: Optimizing the path that the arrow travels from release to impact can greatly increase success. There are at least three scenarios when having a flatter trajectory is a boon.
- Long-range: As a Western Coues deer hunter—where spot-and-stalk is the primary method used to hunt these tiny deer in open country—I know a 60-yard shot is a good one. Furthermore, on numerous occasions, I’ve ranged a Coues buck at one yardage, but the animal then moved a few yards prior to me being able to take the shot. A faster arrow with a flatter trajectory will help to cut out some of guesswork associated with long shots, especially at unknown distances.
- Short-range: although we might be talking about milli-seconds, one thing is true: sound travels faster than an arrow, even if, propelled at 300 fps or more. At a distance of 20 yards, arrow ducking may not be as much of a factor, but if you are shooting at deer-sized game at 50 yards and beyond, a faster arrow will make it more difficult for that buck of a lifetime to duck your arrow.
- Unmarked distances: I shoot an HHA Sports single-pin sight marked in one-yard increments, but I am sure I am in the minority. I’m sure the majority of bowhunters shoot a multiple-pinned sight with pins more likely in 10-yard increments. So, what do you do when your shot presents at a distance in between pin settings? A faster arrow allows the shooter to use the closest marked-distance pin, perhaps held just slightly low or high.
Setup & Results
Recently, I got my hands on a Bowtech Prodigy to see if I could get a less than 60-pound bow, set at 27-inches of draw, to shoot 300 fps. I chose to experiment with a Prodigy because it accommodates a wide range of bowhunters, with draw length settings from 25–30.5 inches. Additionally, its Power Shift technology offers a range of draw cycles from smooth to performance. Overall, the Prodigy is an all-around bow. Additionally, its IBO rating of 343 fps is approximately the minimum for achieving 300 fps at the tested draw weight and draw length. During my test, the Prodigy fired a 288-grain arrow at 301 fps under the following conditions, and with the listed accessories.
- Weight: 288 grains (microlite insert, 9-grains)
- Broadhead: Muzzy 75 grain MX-3
- Tested Speed: 301 fps
- KE: 57.88
- M: 0.38
At extreme speeds, pay close attention to arrow spine. As shot, the 480 spine arrow is matched correctly for the Prodigy, which has an extremely hard cam. However, increasing the draw weight just one pound could mean having to make a switch to a heavier-spined arrow. The effect would be a heavier arrow; thus, a slower speed. Another option to increase spine would be to cut the arrow shorter. With the QAD Ultra drop-away or similar rest, a two-inch shorter arrow than the one tested could be used. In theory, a shorter, heavier-spined arrow with the same target weight of approximately five grains per inch, with a few pounds more draw weight would still shoot 300 fps.
The front of the arrow on this arrow setup has a couple disadvantages. With a 75-grain broadhead, front of center (FOC) on the arrow as tested was right at the suggested 10 percent minimum, which could cause broadhead flight to be problematic at the tested speed. The Muzzy MX-3 flew true and paper-tuned fine; however, another broadhead may not, even at the same weight.
The kinetic energy of this arrow is approximately 58, which fits into the standards used by many for small- and even medium-sized game, but the momentum of the arrow was at the low end, just 0.38. In my opinion, this arrow would be fine for hunting Western sub-species of White-tailed deer, like the Coues deer and similar-sized big game, but would not be recommended for a bruiser of a Midwestern whitetail. Additionally, it would make a great 3-D arrow.
Additionally, I tested a variety of arrows at various weights, which would be more effective for Midwestern whitetails to larger big game animals, and/or to have the confidence to take a less than perfect shot. Keeping all the variables the same: draw weight, draw length, arrow spine, etc., the same length Easton Hexx arrow can be put together with different inserts to achieve different arrow weights. The lightest arrow weight to achieve at least 55 KE and 0.40 M is approximately 305 grains. In contrast, kinetic energy begins to fall off with an arrow weighing approximately 400-grains because the speed begins to fall off rapidly with the increased weight. Within that range, here are two alternatives for hunting arrows that optimize speed and energy for different sized big game.
- Easton Hexx 480 (6.3 gpi)
- Weight: 332 grains (standard insert, 23-grains)
- Broadhead: 100 grains
- Tested Speed: 285 fps
- KE: 58.98
- M: 0.41
With over 58 Joules of kinetic energy and a momentum of 0.41, this arrow combined with a true-flying broadhead is suitable for any of the Whitetail sub-species found in North America. Additionally, this arrow would be quite suitable for larger big game like caribou and elk.
- Easton Hexx 480 (6.3 gpi)
- Weight: 386 grains (brass insert, 75-grains)
- Broadhead: 100 grain
- Tested Speed: 265 fps
- KE: 60.13
- M: 0.45
With over 60 Joules of kinetic energy and a momentum of 0.45, this arrow and broadhead optimizes the potential energy available from a light draw weight-short draw bow. The energy in this arrow is sufficient to knock down the largest big game animals in North America. Additionally, it would meet any outfitter’s criteria for the largest game animals found in Africa as well.
In my opinion, you should never target a specific arrow speed when setting up an existing or new bow. Rather, it is best to identify a correctly spined arrow that provides enough potential energy and momentum (measured in KE and M) to match both the game you will be hunting and your shot preference. Moreover, if you are willing to do a little extra work, there is no reason why you cannot set up a bow to shoot two or three different arrows, each with a specific task in mind. When chasing 300 fps, use Western Whitetail’s Arrow Efficiency Calculator to optimize your bow setup and arrow choice.